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Toxic fumes detected at popular Brooklyn shuffleboard club for past 2 years


The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation took a year to alert Gowanus Canal residents about toxic fumes rising into the building that houses the popular Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn, according to documents reviewed by Gothamist. Despite being discovered by the DEC nearly two years ago, the airborne hazards at 514 Union St. have not been widely communicated.

The DEC had documented indoor air pollution concerns at the venue beginning in March 2021 that involved a cancer-causing chemical called trichloroethylene or TCE, an industrial solvent used in manufacturing that’s resistant to degradation. The 21,000 microgram per cubic meter concentration of trichloroethylene measured under parts of the building is more than 10,000 times the allowable amount under New York State Department of Health guidelines, according to monitoring results from the DEC.

This underground pollution is seeping fumes into the indoor air at the Royal Palms that have been measured at 20 times the state’s allowable limit, the results show. High levels of contaminants, including TCE, remained detectable in the building’s underlying soil and groundwater through last autumn, according to a DEC investigation.

A state-approved construction project to contain and reduce these fumes only began in February, and all the systems meant to help vent the underground pollution won’t be completed until the third quarter of 2024.

Thousands of people have likely been exposed to trichloroethylene at the Royal Palms, given the club's popularity, its 500-person capacity for events and the fact that the ground contamination predated the detection two years ago as well as the club’s opening in 2013. Aside from cancer, long-term exposure to trichloroethylene can cause headaches, liver damage and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other hazardous chemicals are present at the site along with trichloroethylene. DEC documents said the agency detected high amounts of perchloroethylene and methylene chloride that exceed New York State Department of Health guidelines.

The DEC said it plans to share its findings this summer. Even after the containment project is complete, the agency will monitor the site on a quarterly basis for at least a year to determine if it’s successful.

In a statement to Gothamist, Royal Palms co-owner Jonathan Schnapp pointed to the DEC’s approval of a plan to remediate pollution underneath the location.

“They [DEC] determined that air conditions were not dangerous in a way that would prevent people from spending time inside the building at 514 Union St. during that process,” Schnapp said. “Rather than passing judgment on the benefits or drawbacks of residential development in Gowanus, the Royal Palms remains focused on nurturing the incredible community it's built over the past decade and continuing to introduce new players to the game of shuffleboard for years to come."

The building’s owners — Avery Hall Investments — said this remediation plan will occur in three phases for 514 Union St. and a neighboring development site.

“The first phase has been completed, with the second phase underway and a third phase planned for the future development,” the emailed statement said. “The property owner and tenant have complied with the DEC-approved remediation plan throughout the process.”

A “mixed-use and mixed-income” apartment complex is to be built around the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club and completed in 2025.